There is so much buzz about Phillip Petit with minimal mention of Rudy Omankowsky, Sr. Ben Kingsley does an excellent job of portraying his character in the movie, The Walk. However, there’s much more to “Papa Rudy”, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring you a little history about this legend and his family.
Rudolf Omankowsky, Sr. was born in Czechoslovakia in 1909. He learned the art of tightrope walking and owned his own circus. Rudy married Anna Tříska and together they had 3 children, Rudy Jr., Berty, and Lili. All three became tightrope walkers and preformed under the name, Le Diables Blancs, “The White Devils”. In the mid 50s Rudolph “Papa Rudy” Omankowsky, Sr. succeeded as head of the White Devils and as the patriarch of this successful group of wire walkers performed in France and throughout Europe. The above historical picture was shot when Rudy’s daughter, Berty married Roger Decugis, in a ceremony conducted on high wires above the streets of Toulouse, France. The wedding pictures were featured in Life Magazine on May 7th, 1954. There you can see the photographer, Jean Dieuzaide, piggybacked on Rudy Sr.’s shoulders while he walked the wire. July 8, 1962, the feat of crossing the Lake from Gerardmer on a 1 km long cable up to 250 m and 200 m high, while blindfolded, earned him the title of world champion. He was also celebrated for other extraordinary feats as a high wire walker and unicycle-list, which earned him the name “Papa Rudy”. The family endured much death and pain as 16 family members had died over the years from tightrope mishaps. Unfortunately, Berty who was 20 when she married, died in 1983. I was unable to find out the cause of her death. They were a daring family of performers and world renown for their skills.
Sometime in the 60s, Papa Rudy became a mentor to Philip Petit, taking him under his wing to prepare him for the greatest Tightrope feat to date. Although Papa Rudy is no longer with us, his son Rudolf Omenkowsky, born in 1937, lives in Chalons-en-Champagne, in Marne with his wife Colette. I could not find information on his daughter Lili other than she married Ernie Clennell who was one of Le Diables Blancs.
Reblogged this on James' World 2.
Something isn’t adding up. Rudy Jr was born in 1937… that would have put him in his late 20s/early 30s when he was mentoring Petit. It seems more logical that Rudy Sr. was the mentor – particularly since a 70-something actor portrayed him and the film seemed to go to great details to keep the actors consistent with the characters they played.
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I want to thank you for bringing this blunder to my attention. I had researched Papa Rudy for weeks before writing about him. After reading your comments, I went back to the drawing board only to find that many stories out there are incorrect. No excuse though — I should have put two and two together. I must admit, I was confused when I first wrote the story. I tried to piece it all together but apparently missed something. I hope the Omankowsky story now reflects the true history. There’s a big gap between father (born 1909) and son (born 1937). Thanks again for your comments.
hi iam czech born czekoslovak and i find this story most intriguing
I’m happy you got something out of it. I thought Papa Rudy lived an exciting life and accomplished some intriguing feats, like balancing himself and the photographer on his back at his daughter’s wedding. Thanks for visiting Carol’s World. I hope you’ll continue to find stories you like.
I could give you maybe some more details about Berty’s death as Christian, one of her children, has been my brother in law (for about a week because he married my sister just one week before his death). I would be happy to contribute to spread more information about this wonderful family. Contact me by e-mail if you want to find out more. I can also ask my sister for more details. What I can tell for sure: I know of two family members who certainly did not die due to tightrope mishaps but under other circumstances.
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Thank you — I would love to know more. I think this is a fascinating family with an extraordinary talent. I researched as much as I could so any more info would be a blessing.